In today's first reading, we see the Israelites gathered together before Jerusalem's Water Gate. Excitement hummed through the crowd of men, women, and children. Today was a very important day. Their city was finally restored. The Temple had been rebuilt, and now, thanks to Nehemiah, Jerusalem was surrounded by a solid wall. Today they would celebrate.
At daybreak, the priest Ezra took his place on a wooden platform in front of the assembly. A hush fell over the people as Ezra opened the scroll and began to read from the book of the Law. The whole group listened attentively to the words of God...and listened...and listened...and listened some more. As he read, Ezra explained each passage, telling the people what it meant and how it applied to them. The hours passed, but the listeners hardly noticed. They were intent upon God's word, entranced by Ezra's cogent commentary, and the tears began to slide down their cheeks.
As the sun rose high in the sky, the people raised their hands and echoed Ezra as he blessed their great and wonderful God. No other God had ever interacted with anyone like this. No other God had ever given such a remarkable Law. No other God had gathered a people for Himself and cared for them so tenderly, teaching them, guiding them, yes, punishing them when they sinned, but always bringing them back to Him. They were His family, after all. He had made a covenant with their ancestors, and God never broke His oaths. They and their ancestors had, however, been false to the covenant. They had spurned their loving God, turned their backs on Him, and disobeyed Him time after time. The tears flowed freely.
When Ezra finished reading, Nehemiah the governor stepped up and spoke to the now-weeping people. “Today is holy to the Lord your God,” he told them. “Do not be sad, and do not weep...Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”
The people quieted down at Nehemiah's words. As the Levites moved through the crowd reinforcing Nehemiah's message, the atmosphere changed. The people broke out in a lively chatter and began to head for their homes, making plans for meals, music, and dancing. They now knew that God's Law was a cause for great joy, not sadness.
Someone began to sing: “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul; the decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.” Another voice answered, “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the command of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eye...” A third singer joined in: “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true, all of them just.” Finally, a fourth voice rang out, clear and rich: “They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold; sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb.”
What an awesome God they had to give them such a beautiful Law in which to rejoice!
Friday – Covenant Curses
A covenant is a sacred bond, created by an oath and creating a family. Those who enter into a covenant give themselves to each other, swearing to be faithful forever.
Throughout salvation history, God has created and renewed covenants with His people many times. In doing so, He gathers a family to Himself, and He gives Himself to His children as a loving, caring Father. In return, His children swear to obey Him and keep His commandments, surrendering themselves to His will.
God's people, however, have a nasty habit of breaking covenants. When they do so, they call down upon themselves the covenant curses, the results of their sins and unfaithfulness. In swearing the covenant, they had agreed to keep it at all costs or face the consequences.
In today's first reading, the Israelites lament the covenant curses that have fallen upon them. They admit that they and their ancestors have been disobedient and have sinned against God, disregarding His voice and forgetting all the blessings He had poured down upon them over the years. They had ignored and scorned the prophets who tried to warn them. They even served idols, hedging their bets just in case God didn't do what they wanted. Now they are suffering the consequences: exile and captivity in Babylon.
We, too, live in a covenant with God. We, too, sin on a daily basis and must face the consequences of our wrong doing. Unlike the Israelites, however, we are blessed to have Someone Who has taken the covenant curses upon Himself, Someone Who dared to die for us, Someone Who holds out forgiveness that can be ours as soon as we repent and confess our sins. That Someone, Jesus Christ, God-made-Man, still calls us to covenant loyalty, and He offers us much greater rewards than just a return to the Promised Land of Israel; He gives us the opportunity to go home to Heaven.
Saturday – Childlike
Jesus says that God reveals hidden mysteries to those who are childlike. Reflect on that for a moment. Think about how children are filled with wonder and awe, how they are ready to believe, how they lack the skepticism and cynicism of many adults. Recall the innocence of little children and how they so trustingly run into their parents' arms for comfort. Consider how easily they smile and laugh, how open and honest they are, how they throw themselves fully into whatever they happen to be doing.
Are we like children? We should be. Jesus tells us quite seriously that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17).
The kingdom of God belongs to those who are childlike, to those who let go of themselves and fall into God's arms.